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Making the grade: how the Irish system works

March 24, 2020 | By | No Comments

Have no fear! Canadian student Jake Elliott has some really good advice – and some myth-busting tips – for any foreign student confused by the different grading system used in Ireland

Ireland is such a fantastic destination for studying abroad, especially for Canadian students. Particularly in the fields of medicine, technology, business and entrepreneurship, many of the world’s largest international companies are developing research labs and headquarters here in the Emerald Isle. In addition to Ireland being a predominantly English-speaking country, Canadian students have the opportunity to study in a community with similar values and norms and an education system that is also very like our own. There is, however, one somewhat glaring difference that many are unaware of: the grading system.

I’m sure there are some students out there who may have come across this area of concern and are eager for some definitive answers on the matter. How does grading work? Is it harder to get good marks? What will happen to my grade point average (GPA)?

Have no fear, fellow students! After a full semester of studying here, I believe that I am fully equipped to answer these questions, bust any myths that you have encountered, and leave you fully prepared (and excited) to thrive as a student in Ireland.

How does the grading scheme work?

Grades are classified into several honours descriptions. Refer to this breakdown provided by studyineurope.eu (2017):

International scale
A (excellent): First Class Honours (70% or above)
B (very good, with few errors): Upper Second Class Honours (69%-60%)
C (good, with some errors): Lower Second Class Honours (59%-50%)
D (satisfactory, with many errors): Third Class Honours (49%-45%)
E (sufficient): Compensating Fail. This is the minimum passing grade (44%-40%)

Higher education institutes in Ireland employ what I have come to refer to as a “bottom-up” grading approach. This essentially means that students work their way up to earn marks. As described, the minimum passing grade is a 40% in most Irish institutes, as opposed to the 50%-60% required in Canadian schools. In order to earn more marks, students are encouraged to give their best effort and develop their own innovative ideas.

As stated, 70% and higher is classified as first-class honours in most institutions. It is possible to receive slightly higher marks than this, as I have seen as high as 85% from different students, but those will require you to truly go above and beyond the expectations of the assignment.

Please DO NOT be discouraged if your grades are quite a bit lower than you are used to seeing in Canada. While the grades themselves may not look as impressive, any grades within first and second-class honours are highly regarded and you should feel incredibly proud for achieving them!

college library
Is it more difficult to get higher marks?

Perhaps, but only by direct definition. Let me provide some context: In relation to Ireland, Canada employs more of a “top-down” approach to grading. Every test or assignment in Canada has a capped standard of perfection at 100%. As assignments are marked, evaluators are required to take marks away for errors they encounter.

The key difference here is the perception of the grades themselves. In Canada’s education system, the highest mark one can receive is (typically) 100%. It is HIGHLY unlikely to get anything higher. In Ireland, errorless or “perfect” works will receive a 70% and still leave room to strive higher with a little extra effort.

It is important to note, though, that grading in Ireland can be somewhat subjective. Just like in Canada, some institutes, programmes, professors and even assignments may have slightly different grading schemes and expectations.

college buildings

What happens to my GPA?

This is a question that I have come across a lot, and one that is a little more difficult for me to answer. Canadian grade point averages (GPAs) differ drastically in score and weight in all of these different programmes. Where some institutes use a 9-point system and others use 4 points, there are those that don’t use GPA at all.

All you really need to know is that the Canadian and Irish institutes in which you are studying will have a conversion system for grades. The grades you acquire in Ireland will be converted to your Canadian transcripts in order to be better representative of the different grading structures.

Trinity College Dublin has a great resource which calculates the conversion of grades to different countries, which can be found here: https://www.tcd.ie/study/assets/PDF/Grade%20Conversion%20Tables_November%202017.pdf

Should this deter me from studying abroad?

Absolutely not! While grading in Ireland may have a different philosophy than in Canada, I would argue that Ireland’s system provides even more opportunities for success. Graduates with experience working or studying abroad are very valuable to Canadian companies working in such diverse environments. Your Irish grades will not be a hindrance to your ability to your career pursuits; if anything they will be of significant value.

And if that’s not enough to love, your Irish credits transfer directly with the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), making it even easier to transfer your grades to any other European Union member (European Commision, 2015). Care to continue your studies in Europe beyond Ireland? Perfect, because grades carry the same weight and value in all other European countries, making credit transfer oh so convenient.

group of students

Final thoughts

Difference isn’t always a bad thing, especially in the case of studying in Europe. Ireland provides so many incredible opportunities for international students to excel in their chosen fields.

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